Controversial new rules that limit when Los Angeles police officers can impound the vehicles of unlicensed drivers have left officers confused and contributed to a dramatic drop in the number of seized vehicles, the Los Angeles Police Department reported Tuesday.
Last year, police impounded 19,944 vehicles, a 39% decline compared with 2011, Deputy Chief Michael Downing said during a meeting of the Police Commission, the board that oversees the LAPD.
One reason for the tumble, Downing said, was Special Order 7--the new policy LAPD Chief Charlie Beck pushed through early last year. Under it, officers were instructed to continue with impounds, but ordered not to place onerous 30-day holds on vehicles if an unlicensed driver met several requirements -- including having auto insurance, valid identification and no previous citations for unlicensed driving.
Instead of the month-long impounds, which often come with fees and fines that exceed $1,200, officers were told to use a less-harsh part of the state’s vehicle code when impounding vehicles that allows owners to collect vehicles immediately from impound lots. And, officers were told to forgo impounding a vehicle altogether in cases in which a licensed driver is in the car or able to arrive “immediately.”
Beck and commissioners billed the changes as a fairness issue for illegal immigrants, who are widely presumed to make up the bulk of unlicensed drivers in California since state law forbids them from being issued licenses.
The old policy, Beck said at the time, was too vague and gave officers little direction on whether to impound a vehicle and, if they opted to do so, if they should impose the 30-day hold.
Downing, however, said Tuesday that officer confusion has persisted with the new impound rules and when to invoke the month-long impound. Not wanting to improperly use the more serious impound, officers “tend to default” to the more lenient type, Downing said. As a result, the overall decline in impounds is due almost entirely to a drop in 30-day holds, according to department figures. Similar changes to the impound rules at drunk-driving checkpoints have also contributed to the decline, Downing added.